Student at the California College of The Arts in San Francisco, Congrui Gao won the LIT Awards 2021 “Emerging Lighting Designer of the Year” prize.

January 26, 2022

Congrui Gao has a creative, futuristic, imaginative, and artistic approach to design! His design “Immersive Gestures” was mainly inspired by Balenciaga’s 2020 autumn and winter fashion shows, Congrui shares with us his enthusiasm and future professional aspirations.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Congrui Gao. I was born in Shanxi, China, and I am currently studying Interior Design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I believe I have a creative, futuristic, imaginative, and artistic approach to design. Interior designers can have an impact on the lives of people in a given environment. I like the challenge of blank spaces, and I get excited about imagining the space we will inhabit in the future. I am extremely sensitive to colors. As an Asian, I have a unique perspective from the East. I love nature, the outdoors, travel, photography, and everything about art.

How did you discover your passion for lighting design? Why did you choose to study lighting design at the California College of the Arts?

The reason I love lighting design and am passionate about it is my sensitivity to color. The nuances of the color of light seem to me to have a huge impact on the environment, the atmosphere, the objects presented, and the senses of the experiencer. Reasonable control of light color, color temperature, intensity, atmosphere, type, and other elements, is a great challenge for designers. I like to explore the subject of lighting, so I chose to study at the California College of the Arts, which has a professional team, faculty, and abundant resources in the Bay Area.

Can you please share your creative journey behind “Immersive Gestures”? Where does your inspiration come from?

The idea for my work was mainly inspired by Balenciaga’s 2020 autumn and winter fashion shows. The original setting was at the Cité du Cinéma film studio complex in Paris, with the Balenciagas on a central runway submerged underwater and surrounded by an oblong amphitheater of seats. Although only a few centimeters deep, the water created the illusion of an almost bottomless abyss at the center of the show.

An LED screen suspended from the ceiling shifted between natural scenes of crashing waves, churning clouds, swarming crowds, and bright red glowing lava, which were reflected in the water below. In my work, “Immersive Gestures” will be used as a key set of oriented words for the creation and design of my performance space for Balenciaga within the context of the Z Space theater and performing arts company located in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Each environment is connected through layers of immersive experiences.

The truncated cone form is the basic core element of the performance space, which is evenly divided and rotates around a series of center points within the site. The interior of the performance space is composed of a single strip-shaped LED screen, and the audience will stand along the arc edges to experience a 360-degree immersive experience. The video projected on the screen will physically respond to the model’s fashion clothing, creating a sense of mystery, oppression, structuralism, and powerful visual impact.

Instead of maintaining a fixed relationship between the stage and the audience, the relationship between fashion, model, and audience will evolve. The entire fashion show experience is not a static vision; it is an immersive experience of moving gestures between the audience and performer.

What does it mean to you to become the LIT 2021 Emerging Lighting Designer of the Year?

First of all, thank you, LIT, for affirming me. This was the biggest encouragement for me in the beginning stages of my journey as a designer. It made me realize that I am talented, and I am also capable of creating my dreams, and I am more convinced than ever that I will go further and further down the road of lighting design.

What are you working on now? Can you share a glimpse of your next lighting design project?

I just recently finished the design of the restaurant. Of course, lighting design is a very important part of it. This project is also a renovation of the old site in San Francisco. Lights play various roles in my new designs, such as guiding functions, layering functions, spatial functions, transforming functions, etc. I am exploring the relationship between light and different roles in space. I’m very excited to break through and challenge myself.

You are just starting your career as a lighting designer… What do you want to do next?

I want to have the opportunity to get in touch with a variety of excellent lighting designers and to learn from, collaborate with, and gain experience with them. In the beginning, I always thought that experience was the best teacher.

Last, what should we wish you for 2022?

To maintain a healthy and active life, and wish everyone in the world peace and happiness. I’m looking forward to finding a job and starting real physical projects for any of my design careers this summer.